Cinema in Dilemma: A comprehensive look at the newly proposed amendments to the Cinematograph Act of 1952

Introduction – 

The renowned French playwright Yazmina Reza once said, “Theatre is a mirror, a sharp reflection of society. The greatest playwrights are moralists.” Whether theatre and moralism go hand in hand is a dithering fact but what can be asserted,rather undoubtedly, is that theatre and its forms of expression always remain a true testament and mirror to our social realities and as such, should be free from restraints and controls to facilitate expression in its true sense and form without shades of expurgation.

A Brief Background 

Indian cinema has begun to travel unprecedented heights and boundaries over the years, tapping into very delicate and controversial subjects with finesse and class encouraging varied debate and discussion on the same. It has indeed been a breath of fresh air to witness a revolution that is undergoing in Indian Cinema, but this revolution may be on its way to be a short lived one. The newly proposed amendments to the Cinematograph Act of 1952 may become the death knell of new age Indian Cinema. The newly proposed amendments have been met with extremely unfavourable reactions and reviews from the creative & entertainment industry as well as from many free thinkers as being an impediment to creativity and free expression.

Indian cinema witnessed a milestone when Dadasaheb Phalke released the first ever Indian film, Raja Harishchandra in 1913. In 1918, the first ever legislation came into place to regulate Indian cinema. The Cinematograph Act of 1918 was introduced in the imperial legislative council after the council took note of the ever-growing popularity of cinema in India and hence, felt the need for a legislative control over cinema.The Act of 1918 was essentially the foundation for the modern censorship laws of India. The Act of 1918 was repelled and later replaced with the current act, the Cinematograph Act of 1952. While the Cinematograph Act is the statutory document that regulates film in India in theory, in reality that task is in the hands of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) known more commonly as the Censor Board. The CBFC draws authority from the Cinematograph Act, 1952 to regulate and control the distribution and public exhibition of cinema as per the provisions of the Act of 1952.The CBFC not just upkeeps the provisions and rules of the Cinematograph act but also censor cinemas and regulate exhibition as well as issuing certification to release cinema.

The Newly proposed Amendments 

All the hue & cry among the film fraternity today is because of the newly proposed amendments being proposed to be made to the Cinematograph Act of 1952. The newly proposed amendments were added in as iteration and were first introduced in the Rajya Sabha on 12-09-2019 after receiving the Union Cabinets approval. There are three recommendations proposed in the amendments, they are – • A revision in the categorization of U/A on the basis of age.• The Union Government has added powers to recommend and in certain matters even override the decisions of the CBFC to reconsider or even revoke the certification given for the exhibition of a cinema. The Government has called for changes to be made in section 6(1) of the Act which gives it revisional powers.• The recommendation has also been made to add in section 6AA that targets piracy suggesting an increase in the minimum period of imprisonment as well as increasing the fine amount that can be charged.

The proposed amendments after being introduced in the Rajya Sabha, was differed to a standing committee and the standing committees report was received on March 16, 2020.   

The Central Government through the Ministry on Information & Broadcasting has now sought comments and feedbacks from the general public with regard to the proposed amendments and asked for debate and discussion on the same.

Are these Amendments problematic in nature? – 

India has a history of extremely stringent and shrewd censorship laws that have dogged down on freedoms and creative art many times in the past. Stringent censor laws will only further limit and control the creativity and the freedoms of expression the artists wish to exhibit and portray. In recent times, India has achieved dismal ratings in press freedom indexes as well as in overall freedoms of speech and expression. Freedom to express oneself without any forms of hindrance and fear of backlash should be one of the basic fundamentals that all democratic nations should provide to their citizens. If not, it becomes a flawed democracy. 

In simple and clear terms, certain proposed amendments & recommendations made to the Cinematograph Act of 2021 are very problematic in nature. Some of the proposed amendments directly increase the Revisionary powers the Central Government has over film certification & exhibition and in way overrides the CBFC to almost gain complete autonomy even to overrule and countermand the decisions of the CBFC. One of the recommendations made in the proposed amendments seeks to increase the Central Governments overall power to cancel out the CBFC’s decisions if it deems fit. The amendments enable the Central Government to exercise arbitrary powers to interfere with the working of the CBFC and take and make substantial decisions overruling the decisions made by the CBFC. This is very problematic since the CBFC is the statutory authorized body as per the Cinematograph Act of 1952 to look into all matters relating to the certification and exhibition of Indian Cinema. The Central Government has no business to snoop around in this sphere as it is something that is left to the discretion of the concerned body, the CBFC. This new amendment gives the Central Government the power to even call for an additional review of a film that has passed the scrutiny of the CBFC and has also received certification and licence for exhibition. The Central Governments arbitrary powers to interfere and review with new feature films will hinder and curb creative freedoms. Time and again, we have seen countless instances of violence and protest against films and works of entertainment labelling them as offensive and derogatory. These new amendments, if made law, would have essentially armed this small bunch of always offended group of people a new alternative to further dog down on creative freedoms and free expression of ideas and notions.

Another point of objection is that the existing mechanism of review followed by the CBFC is pretty sufficient and adequate to combat any concerns that may arise and as such, there was no need of such a provision being made to allow the Central Government to interfere with the review and certification process of films. Another point of objection has arisen on the grounds that there is no need for the Central Government to get any more power than it already has. Currently, even though the CBFC is charged with the review and certification of films, the CBFC in turn is controlled by the Central Government. All the members of the CBFC have been appointed by the Central Government itself.

Also, to be taken into consideration is that this kind of interference by the Central Government goes against the judgment taken by the hon’ble Supreme Court. Section 6(1) of the Cinematograph Act that the new amendments seek to amend were struck down by the Karnataka High Court in the case of K.M. Shankarappa vs. Union of India & the decision reached in the case was upheld by the hon’ble Supreme Court.The section was struck down as they were unconstitutional in nature. The newly proposed amendments seek to amend this very same section that seeks to award revisionary powers to the Central Government.

Another point of concern is the extremely low amount of time given by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting to call upon public as well as the film fraternity’s opinion and suggestions on the proposed amendments. The Ministry of I&B has sought suggestions, discussions and debates on the proposed amendments within 14 days. A matter such as this that has varied aftereffects needs a lot of consideration and discussion for its proper implementation after sound discussion with all affected parties. Two weeks is extremely limited time and will result in ill-conceived laws becoming a reality.

The Positives – 

However, all is not bad with these newly proposed amendments. Some of the newly made recommendations are noteworthy in being essential as well as necessary changes.The decision to rate films on the basis of age under certification is in fact seen as a welcome change and something that was very necessary. According to Gautam Chintamani, a reputed film critic, age-appropriate film categorization is one of the key elements of the act and something that was even recommended in the Shyam Benegal film committee. The amendments also seek to increase the consequences to be faced for piracy. The new punishments for anyone undertaking piracy have been extended to a minimum of 3 months that may be extended up to 3 years and a fine of up to 3 Lakh Rs. These new provisions would be monumental in curbing the menace of piracy that plagues Indian Cinema. So, in hindsight, not of the newly proposed amendments and recommendations are necessarily detrimental or problematic in nature, but these positives cannot justify the bigger evil that these laws entail.

Conclusion – 

Any law, that a sovereign state makes should ideally be for the overall welfare and well being of the people as all laws represent the will of the people which is the ammunition of the state. A legislation, that is draconian and authoritarian will only hinder people’s free will in a civilized society. On the outside, the proposed amendments seem like one that is necessary and ineluctable; it is only in a detailed examination that the true downsides of the new laws can be seen. A country such as ours that has an extremely poor track record of permitting freedoms, new legislations such as the proposed amendments to the Cinematograph Act maybe the last nail in the coffin for creative freedom & expression.

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